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The 10 Nerdiest Things At SXSW 2015

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Ex_Machina_credit_.jpg
Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina

South by Southwest is actually three festivals in one. There’s music, which is how it began; film which has kind of taken over; and interactive. Music is out of our wheelhouse but the films tend to be nerd-friendly. The city motto of Austin, TX is “Keep Austin weird” so they certainly bring movies that cater to that crowd. Then the interactive portion can give us all sorts of technological fun, like last year’s real life Mario Kart racing. SXSW is the festival where Twitter blew up.

At SXSW 2015 I didn’t hear as much about interactive stuff, but a few of the film promotions incorporated technology heavily. There were plenty of midnight movies, big premieres and special events to make SXSW 2015 a truly weird and nerdy experience yet again.

10. The Final Girls Is a Horror Last Action Hero, a Reverse Purple Rose Of Cairo.

The horror-comedy The Final Girls is about a group of modern day kids who go into their favorite ’80s slasher movie, the fictitious Camp Bloodbath. They have to play by movie rules, but once they’re in the plot it changes things. It gets even deeper: Max (Taissa Farmiga)’s dead mother (Malin Akerman), who died, was the star of Camp Bloodbath, so she gets to see her mom again and try to save her.

Movie buffs always dream of going into their favorite movies and doing things the way they want, so it’s a little frustrating that the modern characters in The Final Girls miss a few opportunities. SPOILER ALERT: They actually get to go into the flashback of the killer’s origin story, and it never occurs to anyone to try to change the killer’s backstory. I’m not saying it would have worked, just like it doesn’t work when they try to leave the camp. I’m sure there would be some clever reason he still turns out to be a deformed killer, but to not even try?

They do try to save some characters. When they succeed, it’s cute. When they fail, it’s kind of hilarious how the idiotic characters get slaughtered. They use their knowledge of the movie to try to turn the tables, so I guess I should give them props. After all, this is what they would do in Camp Bloodbath, not what I would do in Friday the 13th. Wouldn’t that movie be awesome, though?

9. Adrien Brody Bought a Castle.

Sure, he’s mostly an acclaimed Oscar nominated actor for serious movies, but Adrien Brody was in King Kong and Predators. And castles are cool, right? It’s like Adrien Brody’s own Game of Thrones, and what it took him to finish it was as brutal as the Red Wedding.

The documentary Stone Barn Castle begins in 2007! Brody’s friend Kevin Ford followed him as he began restoring a stone barn house in the middle of the woods in upstate New York. It took a lot longer than expected, and the house and the movie were only finished last year, in time to play SXSW.

First the basics. Any contractor will tell you they can finish the job by some date that’s completely unrealistic, so multiply that by the exponential square footage of a castle. Then they discovered the foundation was poured poorly in the first place, so had to make structural additions just to keep the place standing. Eventually, Brody hired someone to manage the builders and finish the job, but now Oscar-winner Adrien Brody lives in a castle, so maybe we should call him King Brody now!

8. Turbo Kid Is Still Awesome.

One of my favorite movies at Sundance was Turbo Kid, an ’80s style post-apocalyptic action movie set in the distant future of 1997. In Austin I got to meet the directors, a trio of Canadian filmmakers who call themselves RKSS. They’re big huggers, so I got triple hugs from Yoann-Karl Whissell, his sister Anouk Whissell and Frank Simard.

So it turns out, the post-apocalyptic wasteland was in Canada all along. “We filmed it in Montreal and we were able to find places that definitely felt like a wasteland,” Yoann-Karl Whissell said. “Our wasteland is different from films like Mad Max. It’s not a desert. It’s just that there’s nothing living there. It’s inside a nuclear winter so our desert is different.”

I also suggested they start making Turbo Kid merch, including the signature weapon, the gnome stick. It would make a great stocking stuffer. “We definitely should,” Anouk Whissell agreed. Simard adding, “I want one.”

“Not only that, we are huge action figure fans,” Yoann-Karl said. “So if it’s possible that action figures could be made of it, I would go crazy. Even if I’m the only one buying them. But there’s a huge bunch of people that love action figures, even if they’re adults.”

Yeah, we feel you, RKSS.

7. Oculus Rift’s Insurgent Experience Was Submergent.

With the Divergent sequel Insurgent opening the second weekend of SXSW, Lionsgate brought the Insurgent experience to Austin for the first half of the fest. Using Oculus Rift, the experience gave the viewer a first person experience of being tested by Naomi Watt’s character, with a virtual Miles Teller taunting you along the way. Don’t get too excited, ladies. It’s a “look but don’t touch” demo.

This was my first Oculus Rift experience, as I missed the Interstellar one. My verdict? Oculus Rift seems like a great way to enjoy 360 degrees of low-res pixelated video. Virtual reality has a long way to go before we get to The Matrix, or even to the technological heights of The Lawnmower Man.

The Insurgent video looked like a video game – a PS4 video game, to be sure, but still a video game with glassy replicas of famous people and completely CGI fabricated environments. Part of the shtick is that it sits you in front of a train and you’re badass for letting it hit you and not move. That would be predictable in any movie, so I hope future Oculus Rifts can be more original.

In addition to Insurgent I tried the other generic VR for comparison. It looked like staring up close to a 19″ tube TV in the ’90s. It may be that the distance from goggles to virtual screen is just too small to avoid seeing the lines and dots. It’s an amusing gimmick, but not a revolution for experiential entertainment. Unfortunately, the Saturday Night Live Oculus Rift was not available on day one when I visited the Samsung house. Wasn’t that unspecial?

6. Mr. Robot Is Not an Actual Robot.

In the last two years, SXSW has expanded to include television. It’s smart. TV is bigger than film, pretty much, and shows like Girls, Halt and Catch Fire, Penny Dreadful, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Last Man on Earth got a big start at SXSW.

Mr. Robot is coming to USA this summer and it stars Rami Malek as Elliot, a hacker who grudgingly works a corporate job for a company actually called Evil Corp. I think it’s supposed to be ironic. Christian Slater plays Mr. Robot, leader of an underground collective who hacked Evil Corp to test Elliot. If Elliot will join Mr. Robot, they can take down Evil Corp, redistribute wealth and erase all debt. That’s a pretty big social commentary and the pilot was pretty cool. It’s a lot of information to set up, but it moves and it’s pretty technical.

I would still like to see a show where Christian Slater is an actual robot. They should make that. Or better yet, I’d love to have a Christian Slater robot of my own. He could record podcasts with me as Happy Harry Hard-on or do the Kuffs dance for my enjoyment.

5. Furious 7 Secret Screening

This is why secret screenings make me furious. I had already booked interviews for a movie premiering at midnight Sunday when the surprise Furious 7 screening was announced. Even though there is no movie this year I am more excited about, I’m not going to dick over the other filmmakers to go see Furious 7 instead. Had I known just one day earlier that I should keep Sunday midnight open, I could have arranged a screener for the other film, but on the day of, it was too late to change my plans. Even if I still got a screener, I was already seeing movies all day, and where was I going to sit down and watch a screener? On 6th Street with all the music blaring?

But the buzz was great. Since I didn’t see it, I had to avoid everybody who was talking about it on Monday, so I had to ditch several conversations in Austin. Tweets and headlines suggest Furious 7 delivers, although perhaps some of the scenes tragically completed without Paul Walker may be glaring. I don’t know, though: as soon as I heard people say Paul Walker I ran away with my hands over my ears screaming to drown out their spoilers. As one does.

4. Raiders Of The Lost Ark: The Adaptation Screens With New Final Scene.

True film buffs have heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation a fan film made by three boys from 1982 to 1989. The thing is, you could never see their film because the script and film Raiders of the Lost Ark is copyrighted, so they could never sell tickets or make a single dollar off their efforts. It became legend.

SXSW gave me a rare chance to see Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, because they can show it in a festival and not get in trouble. There was an extra reason, too. The documentary Raiders! told the story of Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jason Lamb, and documented their completion of the one scene they never shot: the fight on the Nazi airfield.

The Adaptation is really great. You get sucked in pretty quickly so it stops feeling like a kids’ home movie. They’re essentially still doing Spielberg’s shots so Spielberg is still kind of directing it. The airplane scene fits perfectly, because the kids already aged vastly out of continuity over the first seven years, so now there’s a scene where they’re grown-ups. Why not?

3. Ex Machina Catfishes on Tinder.

If you’re using Tinder while you’re at SXSW, you’re missing a great opportunity to meet real people. The streets are just overflowing with people all there to enjoy music and film, so it’s very easy to start a conversation. Still, if you want to use technology, there will be thousands of people in the radius of a few blocks, so it might be prime time for Tinder.

So one movie took advantage of that. There was a profile with a photo that probably didn’t look familiar to most guys. They swiped right and started communicating with this girl. After she asked them a series of questions, she said they answered right and she was ready to meet them. When she gave her contact information, it let them to the Instragram @meeteva, the robot character from Ex Machina, a film that premiered at SXSW.

The actress Alicia Vikander is Swedish so Americans might not know her. It’s not like they were posting a picture of Charlize Theron or Felicia Day and asking men to fall for it. This reminds me of when 20th Century Fox got in trouble for auto-dialing random people with pre-recorded messages from a panicked Tom Cruise to promote Minority Report. Honestly, I can’t imagine a situation where I’m conversing with someone I potentially want to meet, get directed to a movie’s promo page and think, “Well, now I HAVE to see that movie!” This kind of stunt can only create resentment, right? Guess we’ll find out when we see Ex Machina‘s box office numbers.

2. Girl Gamer Documentary Has Some Productive Suggestions.

GTFO Trailer from GTFO Movie on Vimeo.

I know what you’re thinking. Another video about GamerGate? GTFO: Get the F&#% Out is actually not about GamerGate. It’s about stuff that happened before GamerGate. Unfortunately, sexual harassment, abuse and threats against women have existed for years. It was only last year that they started getting reported in the media.

There’s probably no perfect way to address these issues and make all the hundreds of millions in the gaming industry happy, but this documentary has some really positive suggestions and unquestionable examples, and lets the gamers themselves tell the story. One presents audio recordings of men verbally threatening her during multiplayer sessions, and it’s not an isolated incident. It unfortunately happens often enough that she had to start documenting it. I did not know about an incident of on screen sexual harassment at a Capcom fighting game reality show Cross Assault.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good too. Several male gamers lament that they want to play games with women and they don’t want threatening men scaring them off. There is a group called Geezers who support and encourage women not to let a few bad eggs sour them on the whole gaming experience. Some of the film’s subjects suggest reasonable positive solutions, such as an online reputation system, akin to eBay’s feedback, so you could flag a user for inappropriate behavior. They’d be accountable because if they got too much bad feedback, they’d be penalized from playing.

With its interactive bent, SXSW has been home to a number of great tech documentaries. I saw my favorite, Indie Game: The Movie at SXSW, though it had premiered at Sundance. SXSW premiered the Napster doc Downloaded, and GTFO joins the ranks. For a touchy subject with a lot of different perspectives, GTFO doesn’t pretend to present them all. It offers some history to illuminate a bigger picture and maybe a helpful way to talk about difficult subjects.

1. Fury Road Has a Road Warrior Callback.

George Miller picked the right clip from the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road to show after the anniversary screening of The Road Warrior, because it had a direct callback to a joke from the classic sequel. I won’t spoil it but it has to do with the shotgun.

The funny thing is, Miller didn’t realize it was a callback. When he showed the clip and people cheered for the shotgun joke, Miller told the audience he’d forgotten he already did it in The Road Warrior. It’s way more awesome as a callback to the classic. Franchise Fred – that’d be me – approves.

Miller also revealed a big Road Warrior flub he says people never notice. In the final tanker chase, when the door to Max’s truck is ripped off, pay attention to Max. The door flying off usually distracts people from the visible crew member lying on the floor at Mel Gibson’s feet.

Also by Fred Topel

The 10 Nerdiest Movies And Moments Of Sundance 2015

The 10 Nerdiest Things At SXSW 2014

The 10 Nerdiest Things At SXSW 2013

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